Introduction: Moveable Drop Ceiling LED Light Panels

About: Well, I am mostly a family man, which means I use "hanging out with the family" as an excuse to get less of my projects started, and a fraction of the started ones finished. I try to be passionate about whate…

Change flush-mount LED fixtures into repositionable, plug-in ceiling tiles.

I came up with this design after replacing a t-12 florescent troffer in my kitchen with an LED fixture. I installed the new fixture in the same location as the florescents (installed correctly with a ceiling box and hard-wired electricity), but the temperature and shape of the light was different enough to make things look strange. I realized I would have to change the location and quantity of the lights I was installing until things looked brtter, which didn't sound fun. Thus, an adjustable solution was in order!

Make sure you consult your local building codes before embarking in this project. If you do not know how to do the wiring steps in this Instructable, either read up on it, find an appropriate Instructable, or ask an electrically-inclined friend.

Featured in Home, 1-2-2016

Step 1: Supplies

1. Flush-mount LED fixture, lightweight.
I'm using the 14" rectangular flush-mount fixtures by Hampton Bay found at Home Depot

2. Power cord material.
Can be from older, broken fixtures or extension cords. These fixtures are 3-wire so I made sure to use appropriate wire.

3. 3-prong plug ends.
If you aren't using an existing cord, you will need these.

4. Small L-brackets and appropriately-sized screws.
You will be attaching these to both the light fixture and the ceiling tile. Coarse threads will help with the attachment to the tiles.

5. Extra ceiling tiles.
Because mistakes.

6. Razor blades, enough to always be using sharp ones!
Ceiling tiles (the ones I'm using, anyway) are rough on blades.

7+ Straight-edges, spacing blocks, electrical tape, wire caps, etc

Step 2: Center and Cut

We will be cutting from the face side of the tile in order to control the quality of the visible cuts, so use care with the marks and the razor blades. You can erase pencil on the tiles (ask me how I know!) buy take care not to damage the surface while marking your lines.

Center the fixture on the ceiling tile. Trace closely. You can take more material away as needed, but a too-large hole is harder to fix. You have some good leeway as far as the L-brackets are concerned, but you may lose visual appeal in the finished product.

Some day I may add a bezel or something for a more finished look, but I'm pleased with the results as of now.

Use a straight-edge to cut away the straight parts of the outline. Use a fresh blade to cut through the face of the tile. This will help ensure a uniform look. Take your time and cut straight. Put the straight edge on the "good" side of the marks, letting any mistakes happen on the waste side.

For curves, I've found it's best to slowly free-hand the first, shallow cuts, then use a plunging motion to "saw" around the rest of the curve.

Once you have cut all the way around, carefully finish the cuts to free the center piece. You can use this as the template for the next tile should you be making more than one.

Step 3: Attach the Fixture to the Tile

Once you confirm the fixture will fit in your cut-out, set the fixture in the tile at the correct level (whatever look you are going for). I used two pieces of wood scrap to hold the fixture and the tile up above the table top to avoid scratching the light cover.

Carefully mark and drill the holes for the L-brackets into the fixture. I used 2 brackets, which allowed some (unwanted) axial movement to the fixtures, but since they are light enough and my ceiling low enough I am able to adjust the fixtures easily once they are in place. 3 brackets would solve this easily.

Once the brackets are attached to the fixture, you can use a short, coarse-thread screw to attach the bottom of the bracket to the tile. This connection isn't very critical since gravity will hold the fixture on the tile in the right position and the brackets will prevent it from falling through, but it helps with moving the tile around and setting it in place so I recommend it.

Step 4: Wiring

Again: consult your local building codes before wiring.

You will need a receptacle above the drop ceiling. Since you are making the power cords yourself, you can make one receptacle in a central location with enough spots for all of your fixture tiles. Use care when routing the coords to avoid any sharps in the drop ceiling grid.

Wire each fixture appropriately with sufficient length cord to easily reach the receptacle. This will allow you to move the fixture tiles as needed for the best lighting.

Step 5: Enjoy!

You can now place the fixtures wherever you like. Take care with the cords. Test out different configurations. You can easily make more of you don't have enough light.

There are many different sizes and shapes of LED fixtures. The ones most compatible with this project will include a separate base and cover, and be very lightweight.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!